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Drake w/ J. Cole, Waka Flocka Flame, Meek Mill, 2 Chainz, French Montana
Nikon Theater at Jones Beach
Saturday, June 16
Better than: That other suburban rap mega-show.
Well over halfway through his set, having already given the crowd a festival’s worth of openers and played everything but his biggest hits, Drake turned to the crowd: “New York, let me show you how much I love you.” Four hours in, his Club Paradise tour had bridged the gap not only between openers Waka Flocka Flame and J. Cole or genres like rap and R&B, but also across a wide range of demographics, seating spoiled 16-year-olds rocking “Self Made” tees side-by-side with old-school heads who first heard surprise guest Busta Rhymes on “Scenario,” and not “Look at Me Now.” But regardless of that, Drake was right: The show’s most exciting moments were still yet to come.
At concerts like this, all those demographics share a desire to believe that their performance is particularly special, realer than all the others and put on just for them. Drake, once awkward in these settings, now knows better than to spoil the fun, spending a long ten minutes moving through the crowd singling out the girl 300 feet away in the red tank top and the couple in matching YOLO hats, but as he spun across the stage to the descending piano chords that anchor “Take Care” or called upon The Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye for some unexpected crew love, it was hard to believe that audiences in Akron or Saratoga saw the same thing.
“These past few days have been on some whatever shit,” he at one point admitted, nodding towards recent bottle-throwing accusations and perhaps even the rumor that he would be arrested after he left the stage, but otherwise expressed far more interest in the narrative of the aforementioned “Club Paradise,” the rapper’s ominously named fictional nightclub where the paper’s green and girls are shifty.
As he ran through the night’s setlist, each song represented a moment in the life of a regular partygoer: Waka showed up to give voice to how one feels after taking a couple of drink-spilling elbows; “Forever” recalled the moment back in 2009 when the DJ wanted to break the dancefloor open; “Marvin’s Room” soundtracked the lonely 4 a.m. drunk dial; and “So Special” stood in for the point when Mavado appears, sings the song “So Special,” then quickly exits. It would have made for a great VH1 Storytellers episode—if only Drake had thought to include anything resembling a story.
Of course, New Yorkers are all a bit spoiled in that most shows in the city are a bit special—out-of-town rappers are excited to play hip-hop’s birthplace, country artists are excited that we’ve even heard their names, and musicians from all genres get to live out their childhood fantasy of selling out Radio City Music Hall or Madison Square Garden. Having played the former (and concluding the show by gesturing towards a YMCMB world tour that would surely fill the latter), the Toronto-born rapper used the occasion to secure his place on the city’s timeline, bringing out local rappers that extended not only back towards the city’s golden age but also into its future, something you might have been able to glimpse as the entire A$AP Mob ran literal—if still not lyrical—circles around Drake, who was somehow never fazed.
The same was almost true when he finally showed New York how much he loves it by bringing a reunited Dipset to the stage for the show’s climax, one by one introducing Jim Jones (“We Fly High), Juelz Santana (“Dipset (Santana’s Town)”), and finally Cam’ron (“I Really Mean It”), who rose from a platform within the stage. “If you don’t know… these dudes have influenced all of hip-hop,” Drake explained to the J. Cole fans in attendance. (Overheard in the parking lot: “That show was great, except for all that Dipset stuff)
After opening with his verses from “Lord Knows,” “Underground Kings,” and “I’m on One,” Drake ended the night with “Headlines” and “The Motto,” allowing the crowd to rap along to Young Money Prez Lil Wayne’s song-stealing guest verse and recall that before the nightclub incident and the Dipset appearance, the show looked as if it might be remembered as recently disgraced labelmate Nicki Minaj’s first post-Summer Jam appearance. Naturally, Drake teased a Nicki cameo but instead redoubled the excitement by reference a recent phone conversation with Lil Wayne that teased the possibility of the aforementioned YMCMB world tour, vowing like MacArthur leaving the Philippines, that he would soon return.
Critical bias: Attempted to be the only person in the amphitheater mad that Freekey Zekey didn’t appear, but couldn’t pull it off.
Overheard: “Mom, you’re embarrassing me—please leave. Give me money and then leave.”